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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

An Open Letter to MTV Regarding MTVMusic

Posted By on Tue, Oct 28, 2008 at 12:45 PM

Dear MTVMusic,

My heart leapt with joy when I saw that you -- a website devoted to nothing but music videos -- had launched yesterday. I grew dreamy with nostalgia, remembering the days when I would rush home from school to flip between Saved By the Bell reruns and Totally Pauly or Kennedy on Alternative Nation. MTV, you corrupted me, distracted me from my algebra homework and made me memorize the words to Guns 'N Roses' "Garden of Eden."

But after poking around the site a bit, I'm a wee bit disappointed. Don't get me wrong, the obscurities are enough to keep me busy for hours. Still, I can't help but think that MTVMusic could be great -- with a few more tweaks. Some observations:


1. Open up your vaults and post all of the 120 Minutes performances -- heck, every vintage live studio performance -- you have gathering dust in your vaults. I'm going to assume that the ten vintage 120 Minutes clips you have posted thus far are just a precursor to greater things and beefed-up content. (The live interviews/performances posted for bands like Death Cab for Cutie insinuate this.)

This archival footage is what sets you apart from YouTube, MySpace video and countless other sites -- and to grow an audience, you need to provide content users can't get anywhere else. Plus, your video quality trumps the fuzzy VHS transfers of 120 Minutes found on YouTube, which makes it even more imperative that these performances are preserved. Heck, the clear, quality videos you posted from a bunch of older songs are a huge, huge plus (finally, a good clip of Throwing Muses' "Dizzy"!). Which brings us to number two....

2. YouTube still trumps the depth of your content. I'm not sure where the "MTV is posting all of its videos ever" idea originated, but it's simply not true. For instance, take the U.K. band James. Search for them on MTVMusic, and up comes "So Many Ways" and "What For" -- two great songs from the mid-'80s, but nowhere near its only two videos. Egregiously missing are "Born of Frustration, " "Say Something" and especially "Laid," a video I remember seeing a million times growing up.

A cursory glance at other artists reveals similar gaps. The Simple Minds' lone clip is "Cry" (no "Don't You Forget About Me"); Sonic Youth's channel is missing "Teenage Riot," U2's is missing "Where the Streets Have No Name," etc. Some fairly popular new-wave groups (Psychedelic Furs, Men at Work even the Human League) don't even have videos on the site.

If people want to see clips and can't find them at MTVMusic, they'll go somewhere else. Simple as that. Content is king. Quality content is king. You're coming in two years (or more) late to the online-music-video game; instead of the innovator, you're the follower. I realize that's an unfamiliar position to be in, but you're banking pretty heavily on the fact that the MTV brand will lure viewers to the site. That'll work for a bit -- but to sustain interest, you're going to have to make yourself an indispensable spot to browse. That means having complete (and thorough) content that appeals to music-dork obsessives and casual fans too. (The Housemartins, Comsat Angels and Ride videos are a good start.)

3. The site lacks any sort of true creative element. "What?" you might say. "But MTVMusic lets users create a profile, add friends, make blogs, mark favorite videos, vote on faves, join communities, etc. Why, they can even upload their new videos to their profile. It's just like MySpace mashed with YouTube!" Technically, maybe -- but not quite.

See, the days of passive culture consumption are gone. My halcyon teenage afternoons spent mindlessly watching videos? Antiquated. That isn't how people absorb media now. That goes for the Internet, television, music -- heck, nearly all aspects of culture. People now expect to have control over shaping their entertainment, mainly by casting a vote and giving an opinion about what they like, dislike, thinks rule/thinks sucks. (See also: American Idol and the myriad shows which popped up in its wake.) They like to feel as though they're making a difference. Although users giving "thumbs up" to clips on MTVMusic helps them rise up the "Top Rated" section, what does that even mean?

YouTube succeeded (and continues to thrive) because of its user-driven content. The site makes people feel like they're a part of something, have a hand in creating something, have some sort of power and control. And YouTube doesn't separate its user-driven content from, say music videos. All are equally important in its eyes. Everyone's entitled to a place within the creative class, everyone's important, everyone's thoughts are important. It's subtle -- but effective -- psychology.

MTV, your video-uploading site gives users the option to recycle footage from YouTube and share it in their profile, along with the option to upload original files. The former concept troubles me; that makes MTVMusic no better than an aggregator of information. It's the difference between reporting a story and simply linking to one someone else wrote -- recycling content instead of creating new, original works. Essentially you're a music-video aggregator anyway -- but allowing YouTube footage on your site just seems redundant.

Sure, you're banking on your thriving online community and culture (a busy, but admittedly impressive niche) to drive this. And you've obviously admitted that YouTube is king. But you can certainly become a video kingpin again too -- online, with just a few more tweaks and a little more self-confidence in your ability to be an innovator.

Love, Annie Zaleski

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